SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – This Black History Month 22News is highlighting Black history made right here in western Massachusetts.
The Mason Square Neighborhood in Springfield is named after Springfield’s first Black philanthropist and famous Black entrepreneur from the 1800s, Primus Mason.
“It’s super important to know there’s a bit of Black history in Springfield. It’s super significant and something that we should really hold on to and try to maximize and continuously learn about because there’s so much of it here,” Springfield Museums Digital Media Specialist, Savannah Taylor told 22News.
Born in 1817 in Monson to free Black parents, Mason worked as a indentured servant until running away to Springfield. He got a $50 loan to invest in real estate, paid it back and begun building up Mason Square.
“You don’t really think about that history unless you have access to that knowledge or you maybe by chance learn about it in school so I think when I was able to conceptualize who he was, his impact, and that he looked like me I think it was really great to see,” Taylor continued.
By 1888 he was one of the wealthiest men in Springfield. Mason left $25,000, nearly all his estate, to create “A home for worthy old men,” in the area. That’s where the now Mason Wright Foundation comes in.
Eleven years after Mason’s death the trustees found a ten-bedroom house on 74 Walnut Street in Springfield and founded the home. They then expanded to a 30 bedroom building in the 1920s, then in 1999 the current building opened with 90 assisted living apartments and one floor of memory care.
“We have grown from early 1900s when the first home was bought. With 10 bedrooms to serving over 1000 people each year. That’s Primus Mason’s legacy,” Mason Wright Foundation President, Alan Popp told 22News.
Primus Mason’s daughter and all three wives wife died before him. Popp said he speculates that Mason’s lawyers and bank decided there should be a home for “worthy old men” in the same situation as him.
Now they have they have 128 assisted living and independent living apartments, a home care agency, and a child care center. They’ve kept the 74 Walnut Street address since the beginning.
“I would like to think his reaction would be like yours, wow,” Popp continued.
You may be wondering who the “Wright” is in the Mason Wright foundation’s name. In the 1940s, Horace Wright left over half a million dollars to the foundation to continue Mason’s mission.
Mason also gave a piece of his land to the McKnight brothers of Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood. Primus Mason is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Springfield.